Finland leg2 (complete) report

Finland leg2 (complete) reportFrom Chris Biewer [ 06/08/2005 ].
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At long last a day of World Rallying worth reporting about. This truly is action packed with split second fights, tiny gaps that in “drive carefully for no damage” rough rallies of late would only have been coincidence. Sadly last year’s surprise Basti Lindholm (2nd until crashing out last year) couldn’t start today for his navigator Tomi Tuominen feeling unwell. The day got off to a bad start as well for Manfred Stohl and Kristian Sohlberg, who both crashed out early. Such places 11, 12 & 13 of last night were erased in one go.

In S1600 Kris Meeke crashed out of Ouninpohja West 1. He made a typical mistake for Rally Finland novices: Often the stages are lined with overland telephone lines, which are convenient for drivers to predict the line of the road after blind crests and jumps. However these power lines don’t always follow the line of the road and Kris learned this lesson the hard way! However with Daniel Sordo the S1600 category stays in control of Citroën C2 drivers, as both the Suzuki Swift have a troubled WRC debut.

At the front Sébastien Loeb started the day off with winning the first stage. Such Bosse Grönholm’s lead was reduced to only 2.3s after SS10, but 5 stages later Bosse extended it again to 23.7s! After SS12, the first run over Ouninpohja, where Grönholm was nearly 10s quicker than Loeb, Grönholm couldn’t hesitate commenting: “Here I know some of the corners!” Ouninphja is the stage where last year Grönholm had gearbox problems, still posted a fantastic time and then said: “Tell Corrado (Provera) 3 (gears) is enough!” Ouninpohja is a well famous stage and when Mikko Hirvonen commented “This is the best stage in the World”, there would be few people disagreeing! So in the afternoon we had a repeat of Ouninpohja. The complete stage of last year is this time split into two halves. And although Marcus Grönholm now won 5 stages in a row, it is the best proof what Séb Loeb is made off that in the 2nd runs over Ouninpohja West he lost only 1.9s and East he lost 2.5s. This is Bosse’s stage and seeing his dominance on this stage in past years, Loeb’s times are sensational!

Before the 2nd run over Ouninpohja, the route went over the Urria stage and Loeb lost another 4.5s to Grönholm over only 10km. Here Loeb still commented "I try to go as fast as yesterday but it's not possible, I don't know, maybe the tyre choice, not happy with the time.". But in Ouninphja 2 he was defenitely up to speed. However just here Petter Solberg lost more ground to the front with serious brake problems dropping him to 5th. Meanwhile Markko Märtin (3rd), Toni Gardemeister (4th) and Mikko Hirvonen (6th) are still only seperated by a few seconds and the fight is well hot. At Mitsubishi Harri Rovanperä is fighting with gearbox problems while in Ouninpohja East 2 Gigi Galli crashed out of the rally for the 2nd time. In the same stage Skoda’s Janne Tuohino reported “Brake problems and strange handling, maybe left rear shockabsorber broken.”

Next is Moksi-Leustu, the longest stage of the rally at 41km. This stage saw Chris Atkinson and Antony Warmbold going off. Both crews are well and at least Atkinson is reported to re-start tomorrow. This stage also saw a swap at the bottom of the top10, where Henning Solberg passed Janne Tuohino for 9th. We also have to draw attention to the group N battle. Here we had a 3-way battle between Swede Patrick Flodin, Finn Aki Teiskonen and Markku’ son Anton Alen. With Alen retired in SS13, after 16 stages we had Teiskonen leading Flodin by 0.1s! At the end of the leg the gap is 5.5s in Flodin’s favour. A little further down the field in around 40th position overall is Vesa Mikkola, son to Hannu, driving a group N Honda Civic. In S1600 Urma Aava had mechanical problems in the long SS16, making it look like Spaniard Daniel Sordo in his Citroën C2 is in line for the Finnish S1600 win.

However most significantly of all in SS16 Toni Gardemeister suffered a puncture with the mouse not working 13km from the end. He lost 1.5 minutes and dropped from 4th to 7th in the process. There was no real explaination for this puncture on what is reckognised to be the smoothest gravel rally of the season.

But soon Peugeot must have been wondering if their move to Pirelli was not such a bad idea after all. On the short SS17 it was Loeb to suffer the next Michelin puncture and again the mouse didn’t work! This catapulted Grönholm’s lead from 30s to 1m07s, with only 64km of stages left to go. Well, knowing Peugeot’s luck, tomorrow Grönholm will crash and next week everybody will have forgotten that the 307 can actually be fast.

Despite Loeb’s misfortune, there are plenty of battles left for the – according to FIA ideas supposed too be to boring to bother – 3rd leg: Watch out for Mikko Hirvonen chasing Petter Solberg for 4th with only a 3.7s gap and Toni Gardemeister trailing Harri Rovanperä for 6th with a 3.8s gap. Interestingly Hirvonen and Rovanperä are local boys from rally host town Jyväskylä.